There are many ways to engage with Judaism.
Talia Chain's chosen way is the rich and diverse tradition of Jewish farming.
Located just an hour from London, in the midst of the Kent countryside, Sadeh farm is in preparation for its early-2017 opening. We interview the initiative's founder and farm manager, Talia Chain.
What is a Jewish farm?
Talia: Sadeh is a space where we combine Judaism with growing food, learning from our environment and being outdoors. Farming is a very Jewish activity.
The Jewish year is based around the agricultural calendar with the harvest festivals as central parts of the Jewish religion. Many of the Jewish laws are about agriculture and how we care for both our land (e.g. principles of letting the land lie fallow) and our animals (e.g. rules on animal cruelty). As well as the laws, Jewish principles of community, repairing the world, and being thankful for what we have are fitting for the farm.
At Sadeh we are building community not just through activities, workshops and festivals but through thinking about the future communities in the UK.
Teaching food growing and protecting the environment for future generations is a very Jewish concept as the religion often looks forward using ideas such as the planting of trees which only future generations will enjoy.
You state that it is the first such UK initiative of our generation, could you elaborate a bit about the context and history of similar initiatives?
Talia: There used to be Hachshara farms in the UK where Jews would train before moving to the Kibbutzim in Israel but that was a little while ago. There are many Jewish farms in America however, Adamah at Isabella Freedman, Pearlstone, Eden Village to name a few.
Since the Hachshara farms closed, we are the first Jewish educational farm and environmental community in the UK. Our farm is in the field of Skeet Hill house, a Jewish youth retreat centre. During the second world war, Jewish children from the city used to come and do some farming there.
How did the project come together?
Talia: Sadeh is inspired by Adamah, the Jewish farm programme in Connecticut, America which I attended three years ago. I have spent three years doing both urban and rural farming. Through this time I have met amazing people who have come together as the Sadeh team. Skeet Hill House as an organisation are on board with the plans and together we have created Sadeh.
And what will a typical day look like?
Talia: I will be working on the farm for most of the week and the farm team as well as other volunteers will come and help out in the week or on weekends. We will be running workshops on many topics such as growing in the city or pickle making as well as selling our vegetables and doing the farm work such as planting, harvesting and digging!
Where does the initiative fit on the secular-religious scale?
Talia: Sadeh is Kosher and Shomer Shabbat. We are inclusive of every kind of Judaism.
How do you see the opportunities for engaging with social justice issues?
Talia: This is a big question. Teaching people to grow food is in itself social justice. It allows them to have more choice about how they spend money in the food industry, who they support with their purchasing power and helps them to be less at risk of food poverty. Educating on the environment and climate change also means educating on poverty caused by climate change all over the world.
Environmental issues are issues of social justice inherently as when we treat our environment with neglect, those in poorer countries suffer disproportionately more.
There is also the issue of social justice for the people of the next generation whose planet we are currently caring for. Learning about the Jewish responsibilities of looking after our planet will inspire people to think more about caring for a world the future is inheriting.
And finally, when we start to think about growing food and the environment, we start to notice what is going on around us. We start to care about our world and the people who live in it and we start to ask ourselves how best to look after each other and what we can do every day to make life easier for someone else.